In 1975 the Hong Kong Jockey Club was appointed by the government as operator of the then British colony’s first lottery. Winning the ‘6 out of 14’ lottery game (by picking the right numbers in the right order) brought a windfall that was enough to purchase two apartments in the city at the time.
Known today as the “Mark Six”, the massive takings from the lottery are recycled back into charitable causes, meaning that taking a punt has benefits for society at large too.
Can a similar formula be applied in Xinjiang? For more than a decade people from the region have been allowed to take part in various sports lotteries. And in more recent years, the local government has been keen to promote horse racing too.
The Uighurs – the main ethnic group in Xinjiang – are no strangers to horsemanship – but as part of their nomadic heritage, rather than of the gambling type.
Last year, the local government rolled out plans to support a “strong equine industry”. Earlier this month there were more incentives in areas that included horse breeding and tourism development. It is hoped that economic returns from these activities will top Rmb9.5 billion ($1.3 billion) annually, starting next year.
Races – similar to those run by Hong Kong’s Jockey Club every week – have also been held over the past 12 months. Gambling isn’t legal, of course, so interested parties take part by making “intelligent guesses” on the outcome in return for prizes and gifts.
The Covid-19 outbreak has not stopped the local government from developing the sport. Earlier this month the first ever “internet race” was staged in Changji, about 40km west of Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi. The event fused horse racing with e-commerce, the local government said. According to coverage of proceedings from the state broadcaster CCTV, the event’s presenters put most of their efforts into selling local crops from Changji in between the races – embracing the livestreaming e-commerce phenomenon that has taken grip in China (see WiC494). More than 500 deals were transacted, the local government said proudly afterwards, without elaborating on how much money was involved.
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